Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Don't Read Me; I'm about Technology!

"Ah, Miri, you read, but you don't understand." Sometimes while reading Vernor Vinge's  technology-dense sci-fi novel, Rainbows End, I feel as though these words from the Mysterious Stranger to Miri could easily be directed toward me. It's not that I lack the reading skills to understand the book; at times, I just lack the interest. This book has some excellent things to say, and I'll get to them later, but right now, as I'm on page 304 with 77 pages left to go, caring about the plot is taking a concerted effort.

I'll be completely honest. I took a peak at Vernor Vinge's picture in the back of the book: This was my first grave mistake. But I wasn't looking for a romantic flame here; surely I could overlook the inch-thick glasses, mustache, and receding hairline in the name of good literature. After this thought came my second grave mistake: I read Vinge's brief biography. This novelist is not a literary man--he's a mathematician and computer scientist! Impostor! So, yes, I immediately formed a bias.

And then, there is all the futuristic technology. I love the internet. I love my cell phone. Do we really need another book predicting the radical societal changes that will come as a result of the exponential growth of our technological capabilities? I'm more of a take-it-day-by-day sort of girl when it comes to technology.

Alright, I've done my complaining. Now I am going to be a cautious advocate of the novel (cautious because a large part of me still sees it as silly, with fluffy dialogue and a dissatisfying lack of imagery). Vinge is not just predicting the future--that would be presumptuous and irrelevant--he is commenting on the present. I mentioned the metaphor of looking at shadows rather than looking to reality in my last post. Vinge recognizes we are a society of shadow watchers, and he illustrates this through the exaggerated shadow watching of a more technologically advanced society. Their brawls are fought in cyberspace; our wars are viewed over the television. Their communication is often through smings or with projections of people; our communication, too, is rarely face-to-face. The question Vinge poses, the question of what we are becoming as a result of our infatuation with technology, is relevant. True, I prefer books about almost anything other than a technologically-saturated society in jeopardy, but at least Vinge has something to say.

1 comment:

  1. I get what you're saying, but down look down on Vinge for being a mathematician and a computer scientist. Lewis Carrol was a mathematician too. I get your frustrations with the multitude of Scifi novels that try to predict the future. Some just don't do a very good job at all. Others, however, do a great job. Look at Douglas Adams for example. I agree with you that the best scifi gives commentary on the present. When Scifi is good, it can give us some great insight to our own society. When it's bad, it focuses just on the technology and has no substance. Just like a movie with a lot of special effects but no plot or character development.